FORT PICKETT, Va. — Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Danville-based Headquarters Company, 429th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team competed in the Philip A. Connelly Food Service Competition March 6, 2020, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. The 429th is competing for the national award after winning a regional competition in 2019.
Under the watchful eye of evaluators, the 429th set up their field kitchen and field sanitation center and began the process of cooking a meal for 429th Soldiers in the field for their drill weekend. The competition begins with the unit having a perfect score before points are docked for miscues and mistakes.
For the judged meal, the 429th’s 92G food service specialists cooked stuffed pork chops, green beans with bacon, salad, minestrone, sautéed potatoes and corn bread. However, the unit isn’t only judged for the quality of the food. Field sanitation, site selection and food safety all factor into the judging, to ensure that every aspect of field feeding is tested.
“The Connelly competition emphasizes the teamwork required between a supported unit and the field feeding section,” explained Lt. Col. Ed Bochtler, 429th commander. “Supported units must provide command support, site security and field sanitation and water purification support, while food service Soldiers must pay attention to items such as presentation, portion control, and production schedule.”
“At this level of the competition, we’re looking for some proficiency in our field craft,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Tollie Yoder, one of the competition evaluators and an Army National Guard food advisor. “Meaning, we’re able to go out in the field, use our field feeding equipment to support a commander’s field feeding mission.”
After a morale-boosting visit from Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, the team prepped, cooked and served the meal, with routine checks for proper serving temperature and doneness of the dishes, all while Yoder and two other evaluators watched every move. Despite the pressure of the situation, Sgt. Maj. Gregory Mason, the state food advisor, thinks the team handled themselves admirably.
“When you take the top four in the nation and they’re competing with each other, it’s tit for tat. I think they’ve got a good chance,” said Mason. “They’re just coming together as a team. You’ve got new soldiers coming in from one unit, one from another unit, you’ve got a new commander, but everything’s working in sequence. Things are running smoothly.”
The 429th is competing against units from New York, Iowa and Nebraska in the national finals, with judging scheduled to be complete by the end of March 2020. A winner is set to be announced in April 2020.
While hoping his troops take home the title, Bochtler highlighted the importance of just having his food service team compete at this level.
“The amount of time and energy it takes to do a Connelly competition is one of the few times they get to effectively practice the employment of all of their equipment and expertise,” said Bochtler.
He also said the experience will be invaluable for the future leaders of the 429th’s food service team.
“We have a lot of vacancies for 92Gs and a lot of opportunities for promotion, and this forms a baseline of knowledge and expertise for the future leaders of food service,” said Bochtler. “The tactical knowledge they gain in this type of environment is going to be critical for their role in the future.”
The unit’s food service specialists competed for the regional title during eXportable Combat Training Capability Rotation 19-4 at Fort Pickett, Virginia, in July 2019. The unit learned they had claimed the Region 2 crown in September 2019.
The Virginia National Guard has a long history of performing well in the competition. VNG units have won the national-level award five times, most recently in 2013 when the Gate City-based 1032nd Transportation Company took home top honors. They’ve finished as the national runner-up twice, and finished third nationally twice.
Established in 1968, the Connelly program aims to recognize excellence in Army food service and is named for the late Philip A. Connelly, former president of the International Food Service Executives Association. The program seeks to improve the professionalism of Army food service personnel in order to provide the best product and service to military members and to provide recognition for the excellence of Army kitchen staffs in dining facilities and during field kitchen operations.
PHOTOS: 429th competes for national Connelly award